Membership issues coming to the forefront

By Rex HoggardOctober 10, 2012, 7:58 pm

There is a turf tussle brewing and it has nothing to do with the ongoing cross-border skirmishes between Turkey and Syria, although the seeds of discontent seemed to have been sown this week along the Mediterranean Sea at the posh Antalya resort.

In the same news cycle, word emerged from this week’s Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals, a non-sanctioned big-money boondoggle featuring eight of the world’s top players, that the Turkish Open would become the penultimate event on the European Tour schedule in 2013.

Not long before that newsbreak, European Tour players learned via a memo that the circuit would begin counting starts in the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup and Seve Trophy toward their minimum starts total (13), which prompted Tiger Woods, however innocently, to suggest that he would he consider taking up membership on the European circuit.

“I don't know what my numbers are as I know I played 19 in the (United) States this year and whether it crosses over or not but I will again look at it,” Woods told the Associated Press.

Writing teachers would call all this foreshadowing. A prologue to what is shaping up to be a power grab between the PGA Tour and European circuit.

According to multiple sources the Turkish Open, BMW Masters and WGC-HSBC Champions will serve as a run-up to the DP World Tour Championship, the European Tour’s year-long finale.

Replace the phrase “run-up” with “playoff” and “Dubai” for “Atlanta” and one sees where this is going. All that’s missing is a FedEx Cup logo and an endless parade of points projections.

Europe is making it easier for the likes of Woods to join their tour by effectively reducing the minimum number of starts by including participation in a Ryder or Presidents cup. Although the move was intended to help American-based Europeans, like Luke Donald and Justin Rose, it has the added benefit of making the European Tour more attractive to potential American members.

Think of it as a “Buy 12 starts, get the 13th start for free” campaign.

The move could also create some interesting scenarios, particularly in Woods’ case. If, and that’s a huge if, Woods takes up European Tour membership, he could play the four majors, four World Golf Championships and whatever cup for nine of his 13 starts.

The final four would likely be a mix of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship or Dubai Desert Classic, one of which he’s played seven times since 2001; Turkish Open, which would dovetail with a reported endorsement deal with Turkish Airlines, and DP World Tour Championship.

Here’s the rub, because of European Tour regulations Woods’ 13th start would have to be somewhere in Continental Europe – perhaps the BMW PGA Championship, the circuit’s flagship event which is historically played the same week as Colonial and not included Woods in the field since 1997.

Yet according to PGA Tour guidelines Woods would only be allowed three competing-event releases to go play in Europe unless he plays more than 20 events in the United States or is given special dispensation by commissioner Tim Finchem.

Woods hasn’t played more than 20 Tour events in a season since 2005 and he currently has 19 starts with no additional U.S. stops scheduled in 2012, which leaves the ball in Finchem’s court.

And if recent history is any indication Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., may not completely embrace Woods’ newfound globetrotting ways. Just this week, for example, the Tour granted competing-event releases for all eight players at the Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals based on a quid pro quo to play the Frys.com Open, this week’s Tour stop, at least once over the next three years according to multiple sources.

The Tour is rightfully keen to protect a loyal sponsor in John Fry, but it is the players who are caught in the middle of a rapidly shrinking global schedule. Or, to put it in cash context, they can play for a $900,000 winner’s check this week in California or a $1.5 million bonanza in Turkey, or $300,000 for last place.

From the Tour’s point of view these events don’t suggest global golf is heading toward critical mass. In fact, since the advent of the FedEx Cup in 2007 there has been less of a strain on cross-ocean participation according to officials.

“It hasn’t been an issue for several years now,” said Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president of communications and international affairs. “We have seen the number of conflicting event releases go down over the last seven, eight, nine years. There are a lot of reasons for that. I don’t know that we think it will be much of an issue going forward.”

Perhaps, but it doesn’t take a risk-assessment team to outline the alternative.

The Tour’s move to a split-calendar schedule, combined with the rumored “run-up” events to the Dubai finale, could, in theory, change that dynamic and put the Tour and events like the Frys.com Open, which is slated to kick off the 2013-14 season next fall, in a bind.

What if push suddenly became shove, and the Tour was dealt a pair of globetrotting superstars in Woods and Rory McIlroy, who is already a European Tour member, with divergent agendas?

What if quid pro quos, like this week’s agreement with the “Turkish Eight,” became less accepted and more acrimonious? How far would the Tour go to protect its sponsors and its brand?

As the global golf schedule continues to shrink we may find out.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.